College Dean, and Author's Grandmother after she took a hat in the eye
should have known life after college wasn't going to go smoothly when my grandmother
took a hat in the eye. It was the end of my graduation ceremony, and the dean
called out merrily, "Now look out! Here come the hats!" Later, when
my grandmother was trying to collect from the insurance company to pay for an
operation, the dean claimed to have said, "Now some of the students may choose
to throw their hats up in the air, so cover yourselves, for fear of injury."
This doesn't have the ring of truth. Anyway, most of us just shrugged and tossed
the mortar boards half heartedly, catching them on the way down. These were rentals,
we had to return them to get our deposits back. But a few of the students, in
high spirits, wound up, flung their mortar boards, like Frisbees, into the crowd
Grandma went down like a sack of potatoes.
if you think this sounds funny in retrospect, well, you can really only imagine
how funny it was at the time. But my life was pretty great right then, and there
wasn't a lot that was going to bring me down. I'd carved out a niche for myself
in college, putting on a comedy revue every semester with my best friend and writing
partner, Mike. I had my first serious girlfriend, the long suffering Edith. And
I'd even decided to try my hand at writing as a career. So I said good-bye to
Edith, who still had a year to go, and would have to stay behind, ever faithful,
to one day be reunited, and Mike and I headed out to Los Angeles, in a blaze of
glory, to seek fame and fortune.
months later, eating shit, feeling like failures and frauds, with no money and
no prospects, Mike and I took action. We made a batch of pot brownies, put together
some mixed tapes, and took off to drive cross country, back to the site of our
I wonder how the trip might have been different if Mike had made the tapes, and
I had made the brownies. Mike was a big guy, about six foot four, two hundred
forty pounds. A man of enormous appetites, he'd failed all three of his roommates
out of college. Any attempt to keep up with Mike was folly. Was he a giant? Let's
not get carried away. But there was something larger than life about him. A brownie
for Mike made for a pleasant driving experience. A brownie for me made for imaginary
hazards on the road. For some reason, it was mainly a problem when Mike was at
the wheel. "Look out!" I'd suddenly scream. Or "Whaa-nooo---never
mind." Mike was pissed. "Don't do that, man." I of course was indignant.
Given that I was seeing phantoms, did he really expect me to remain silent? Yes,
it would be more convenient if I weren't hallucinating the silhouette of a deer
in the middle of the highway, but, since those were the cards I'd been dealt,
it seemed to me that I had a responsibility to warn him.
But the tapes would invariably bring us back together. They were compilations
of our favorite songs from college, with bits of comic relief mixed in, mainly
from this old forty-five Mike had that covered the entire history of baseball
in ten incomprehensible minutes. It opened up with James Stewart narrating ("It
begins in the spring, every spring, for a hundred springs
"), then cut
to a couple of kids running outside ("Hey, Ma, the kids are playing baseball!")
We all remember Lou Gehrig's noble good-bye, but this record included Babe Ruth's
less graceful exit ten years later, when, dying of throat cancer, he addressed
the adoring Yankee Stadium crowd: "You know how my voice sounds? Well, it
feeeels worrssse." Mike and I thought this was hilarious. And as we crossed
the Rocky Mountains, putting behind the bullshit Hollywood value system that hadn't
recognized our genius for five long months
we almost didn't notice the three
men in the pick-up truck chasing us.
studied the rear view mirror. "I think the guy behind us is flipping me off."
I strained to see. The driver nodded, pointed as if to say, "Yes, you,"
then emphatically gave us the finger. There could be no mistake. Fuck us.
guy gestured for us to pull over. Mike and I debated the pros and cons. We drove
like this for a while. Fuck you. Yeah you. Pull over. Mike and I hoped the driving
and venting would somehow mellow them out, but when we finally decided to pull
into a gas station to face our accusers, they jumped out of the pick-up truck,
furious. Curiously, the extra driving had only served to further enrage them.
"I don't know how you drive in California, but you're in Colorado. You cut
off a buddy of mine back at the pass, and he CBed to tell us what you done. I
don't know how you drive in California--I know how you drive in California, I
was stationed at Camp Pendleton--but that's not how we drive here in Colorado."
sold Mike out. "I was in the passenger seat, I don't even know
what's going on." Mike stepped forward, shaking hands like
he was running for mayor, apologizing profusely, and the men seemed
to settle down a bit. "It's just that you cut off a buddy of
mine back at the pass, and he CBed me. And that buddy of mine
my Daddy." At which point Daddy pulls up, gets out of his car,
"God damn, I don't know how you drive in California,"
and it starts all over again. The other men try to calm him down,
Mike offers his most sincere don't-hit-me-Daddy apology, and the
man gives him a long hard look. "If you were a little bit bigger,
I'd eat you for breakfast."
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